“The State of the Union is strong.”

On Tuesday, President Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union address to Congress. Called “the Super Bowl of political events,” the State of the Union is one of the biggest and most storied nights in politics.1 Significant planning goes into not only the speech itself but in the opposing party’s rebuttals, logistics, and even seating (I learned last night that House members don’t have assigned seats so they have to camp out during the day if they want to get a good spot!). This year, the White House expanded the reach of the State of the Union with a few key strategies. First, they released “State of the Union spoilers” last week to preview and elaborate on some of the key topics in the speech. Second, the administration created an interactive site on which the public could view the speech and access supplemental information including photos, key facts, tweets, and even a link to get signed up for healthcare. And finally, much attention has been given to the fact that, in an unprecedented move, the White House released the President’s prepared remarks to the public just moments before the speech was delivered. In the past, the speech is typically released to only press under an embargo. By posting the speech publicly on Medium, President Obama and the White House made a bold move to embrace a relatively new platform and play into the public’s desire for real-time, transparent information.2



It’s no surprise, of course, that everyone has their own take on the speech. The media continues to dissect the remarks, carefully analyzing the issues covered and not covered, what the President said and what he really meant, and what impact the speech actually has on policy.

So now it’s time for us to take our turn, to share our reaction. Specifically, I will focus on the issues that are close to heart for T4A.org and our members and what it spells out for our work in the future.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the speech for us was a shoutout for Vice President Biden’s work on updating the job training system, a task with which T4A.org has directly helped the Vice President. In our TechTable in April 2014, he told us of the frustration of many Americans in their job searches. They constantly hear stats about the number of jobs being added to the economy each month, but told the Vice President that they just don’t know where these jobs are. After hearing this story, our board members from Glassdoor worked with the Vice President and his staff to create the Glassdoor Job Explorer, a search tool that allows job seekers to see what jobs they might be qualified for based on their skill set and identify where in the country they have the best odds of finding a job. This is amazing because it shows just how pervasive and necessary our work really is. We don’t believe that tech is the silver bullet for solving our nation’s problems, but we do believe that great things can happen when you bring bright and motivated people from both the public and private sectors together.

[quote author=”President Barack Obama”]Thanks to Vice President Biden’s great work to update our job training system, we’re connecting community colleges with local employers to train workers to fill high-paying jobs like coding, and nursing, and robotics. [/quote]

One of the issues the President previewed in his spoilers, and one which the tech industry has been buzzing about for months, is cybersecurity. While he spent a great deal of time discussing this topic prior to the State of the Union, the President merely touched on it in his speech on Tuesday. As Dan Verton of FedScoop pointed out, “In a carefully worded speech that ran 6,482 words and lasted just over an hour, Obama dedicated a scant 198 to issues of cybersecurity and digital privacy.”3 Despite this though, it is clear that cybersecurity will be a hot button issue both in tech and government. And in fact, it will take both groups working together to find a solution that works for everyone. As Michael Breen, Executive Director of the Truman National Security Project and one of our online TechTable participants, described, “addressing the problem will require a sustained collaboration between the public and private sectors.”4 This is particularly exciting for us because it demonstrates a clear opportunity for a public-private partnership – a way for tech and government, on both sides of the aisle, to engage and work together to determine what works. Many in the media agree that “Of all the areas ripe for bipartisanship, enhancements to cybersecurity top the list.”5

We were also excited to hear a focus on veterans in the speech. The President sent a message that we have been hearing from countless veterans groups, employers, and veterans themselves:

[quote author=”President Barack Obama”]If you want somebody who’s going to get the job done, hire a veteran.[/quote]

Though not directly tech related, helping veterans is a personal passion for many of our members – so much so that we have helped facilitate a sub-group among our innovators dedicated to tackling these issues. This is something that we’ve seen bipartisan support for, so we’re optimistic that by working with entrepreneurs and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, we can begin to help more veterans obtain the education, skills, and jobs they need to be successful after the military.

Another topic we were glad to hear mentioned is broadband in schools. Expanding access to highspeed internet in schools is the focus of EducationSuperHighway.org, an organization born out of the T4A.org model. Because of the work of EducationSuperHighway and countless bipartisan groups and lawmakers, we have seen expanded funding for broadband in schools. It was great to hear the President show a renewed focus on this topic.

And finally, we were happy to hear the President mention efforts to move the nation forward in a bipartisan way. He focused on the United States as “one people,” emphasizing that, despite disagreements, we can come together and begin to make change. He focused on dialogue and compromise, saying “Understand — a better politics isn’t one where Democrats abandon their agenda or Republicans simply embrace mine.” He reiterated something we’ve heard countless times in our TechTables, from both Republicans and Democrats, and written about in many blog posts: Rather than arguing over the issues where we are clearly divided, let’s focus on the ones in which we can find common ground and begin to work towards a solution that works for all. This is a key belief of T4A.org. We have seen and heard firsthand what these issues are: jobs, veterans, cybersecurity, and many more. We have seen bipartisanship and compromise happen. We know it’s possible. [quote author=”President Barack Obama”]If you disagree with parts of it, I hope you’ll at least work with me where you do agree.[/quote]

Dialogue is crucial on all of these topics. The State of the Union reminded us that, rather than finger pointing and criticizing every move of the opposing party, we should take this fresh start, a new Congress, to collaborate and have meaningful dialogue on all these topics. Senator Joni Ernst alluded to this is the official Republican response. We can find common ground – we just have to try.

[quote author=”Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA)”]Even if we may not always agree, it’s important to hear different points of view in this great country. We appreciate the President sharing his.[/quote]

[quote author=”President Barack Obama”]A better politics is one where we debate without demonizing each other; where we talk issues, and values, and principles, and facts, rather than ‘gotcha’ moments, or trivial gaffes, or fake controversies that have nothing to do with people’s daily lives.[/quote]

1 Baker, P. (2015, January 20). Bold Call to Action in Obama’s State of the Union, Even if No Action Is Likely. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/21/us/politics/state-of-the-union-speech-leaves-questions-about-usefulness-of-unlikely-goals.html
2 Peterson, Andrea. (2015, January 20). The first tech moment of the State of the Union happened before Obama started speaking. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2015/01/20/the-first-tech-moment-of-the-state-of-the-union-happened-before-obama-started-speaking/
3 Verton, D. (2015, January 20). Obama’s State of the Union underplays cybersecurity challenge. FedScoop. Retrieved from http://fedscoop.com/state-of-the-union
4 Verton.
5 Fox, L. (2015, January 20). Can Obama Get Congress to Help Him Fight Terrorism? The National Journal. Retrieved from http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/can-obama-get-congress-to-help-him-fight-terrorism-20150120

1 Comment

  1. T4A.org – Protecting our Next Frontier on January 30, 2015 at 8:31 am

    […] to be a shared mission — government and industry working hand in hand.”11 As we wrote in our post last week, Michael Breen agrees, believing “the problem will require a sustained collaboration […]